On December 8, 2008, the States and Territories of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Montreal, and Quebec, signed into law the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact [The Great Lakes Compact], prohibiting water removal outside the Lakes’ drainage basins and creating a sealed eco-political zone within the United States and Canada. On April 25 2018, Wisconsin approved Foxconn’s request to withdraw 7 million gallons of Lake Michigan water per day for a private LCD panel factory outside Racine: Foxconn claimed its factory’s water consumption a “public use” to skirt full Compact review. This feat of semantics exposed the Compact’s lack of actionable public water definitions, and created a leak in the Compact’s closed loop.
Finally, on February 26, 2019, the citizens of Toledo, Ohio approved the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, granting the city legal guardianship of the Lake and its watershed. Unchecked agricultural runoff in 2014 had rendered Lake Erie’s water undrinkable for half a million people for days at a time: algal blooms would return regardless in July 2019.
These three events inspired the foundation of the Great Lakes Architectural Expedition, an experimental public architecture office entrusted with protecting the spirit of the Great Lakes Compact, researching and designing the Watershed’s public realm, and advocating for the Compact’s human, non-human, and material subjects. The Expedition’s mission has prompted a fundamental re-thinking of architecture’s role in the Great Lakes Megalopolis—engaging legal and physical terrains with equal dexterity, expanding architectural practice with non-human client structures, and transforming architects into agents for public materials in a world of increasing scarcity.
Using archival models, drawings, documents, and studies, this rare glimpse into the office’s archives explores the organizational structure of the Great Lakes Architectural Expedition itself, as well as early attempts by the Expedition’s Lake Erie Board to establish their roles as public advocates and draft the contours of non-human architect-client relationships. Works on display include the Seating Chart at the Parliament for a Material World, prototypes for the Maumee Basin Phosphorous Co-Op, and models of the Last Impervious Surface in Portage County Ohio.
The Last Impervious Surface in Portage County Ohio
The Last Impervious Surface in Portage County Ohio examines the disjuncture between material boundaries and political boundaries, using the Portage County Spillway—a 30-mile long, 500-foot wide, 5-foot tall asphalt megastructure spanning Portage County—as a lens. A topographical intervention, the Spillway is able to redirect enough rainfall towards Akron to support 100,000 people per year.
The Portage County Spillway was rehabilitated by the Great Lakes Architectural Expedition to create a continuous public space for the entire county. With integrated supergraphics to enable satellite monitoring of water flows, the Expedition spearheaded a ban on the construction of further impervious surfaces county-wide to ensure equitable access to fresh water on both sides of the boundary.
The fate of the Portage County Spillway was an early success for the Great Lakes Architectural Expedition—acting to mitigate unequal water conservation practices, and establishing an obligation to serve the interests of the public realm defined by the Lake Erie Watershed and straddling counties and cities.
The Maumee Basin Phosphorus Coop
The Maumee Basin Phosphorus Coop is a collective agricultural infrastructure network undertaken by the Great Lakes Architectural Expedition in collaboration with Lake Erie’s representatives and a coalition of farmers in the Maumee River watershed basin outside Toledo.
Clusters of algal turf scrubbers pass agricultural runoff over an acre of algae-covered mesh curtains, removing toxins and sequestering carbon simultaneously. Collected around the tributaries of the Maumee River, the scrubbers join the agricultural-industrial landscape of northwest Ohio.
Agricultural runoff was a prime cause of the harmful algal blooms in the summer of 2014 which deprived half a million of drinking water for days. In the wake of these blooms, Toledo declared Lake Erie a person with a bill of rights—a compact which provides the backbone of The Great Lakes Architectural Expedition’s activities in the Lake Erie watershed.
The Parliament for a Material World
The Parliament for a Material World is housed at the Toledo headquarters of the Great Lakes Architectural Expedition. A new model for the expanded role of architectural practice in the Lake Erie watershed, the Expedition’s office houses classrooms, public squares, design offices, conference rooms, and the Parliament chamber.
Reflecting the Expedition’s mission as educators, designers, and advocates, the office facility uses a series of discrete pavilions connected by an enfilade of exterior courtyards leading to the edge of the Maumee River. Drawing on examples from the Netherlands and Minnesota, the Parliament gives voice to the Watershed and places architects at its’ service.
The Parliament chamber itself facilitates the representation of Lake Erie in all building proposals within the watershed; a representative from each of the Lake’s watersheds is elected to advocate for the watershed’s public materials and resources. These representatives negotiate with the Expedition’s clients for public concessions and can initiate Expedition projects at their request.
Curator / Designer: Galen Pardee
Fabrication and Installation Assistants: Anthony Selvaggio, Melissa Folzenlogen, Noel Michel, Patrick Sardo, Kate Lubbers, Sofia Kuspan
Sponsors: The Howard E. LeFevre Emerging Practitioner Fellowship, The Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture
Public Water Studio: Matt Capitelli, Noah Ferriman, David Johnson, Sofia Kuspan, Kate Lubbers, Andrew Puppos, Patrick Sardo, Nate Sullivan
Dates: September 2-October 16, 2020